In the first year of war, while Poland succumbed to German armored columns, on the western front the contestants were stalemated. Then, in the spring of 1940, Germany struck through the neutral Netherlands and Belgium and overran France. Norway and Denmark were also captured. Scenting carrion, Mussolini acted the jackal and brought Italy into the war on Germany's side at what he confidently expected was the moment of victory. For a year only Britain held out against the Axis, protected by her island position and the air umbrella provided by the Royal Air Force. Late in 1940, Mussolini invaded Greece, but when he ran into unexpected resistance he had to call on the Germans for help. To accommodate Mussolini, Hitler had to conquer Yugoslavia. Then, frustrated by Britain's resistance, he turned on Russia in the summer of 1941. Back and forth the battle line swayed across the plains of eastern Europe as the two giants slugged it out. [excerpt]
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Bloom, Robert L. et al. "9. The Second World War (1939-1945). Pt. XVIII: The Western World in the Twentieth Century: The Historical Setting." Ideas and Institutions of Western Man (Gettysburg College, 1958), 58-59.